USA – As of December 31, 2023, only two states—Mississippi and Pennsylvania—and two territories—Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands—had achieved the “optimal level” of FDA Food Code adoption, embracing the newest version in its entirety upon release.

This revelation comes from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) latest Food Code Adoption Report, which highlights the varied pace of Food Code adoption across the country.

The FDA Food Code, a model developed to assist state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) food control jurisdictions, provides a scientifically grounded, technical, and legal foundation for regulating the food retail and foodservice sectors.

Since its inception in 1993, the Food Code has undergone updates every four years, with the 2022 edition being the latest.

The report reveals that as of the end of 2023, 35 states had adopted one of the three most recent versions of the FDA Food Code (2022, 2017, or 2013), covering 63.36 percent of the U.S. population. This marks a slight increase from the prior reporting period, indicating a gradual movement towards more up-to-date food safety standards.

Notably, only 21 states, representing 46.28 percent of the population, have adopted the 2022 or 2017 versions, reflecting an incremental improvement with the inclusion of Kansas, North Dakota, and Colorado.

Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and Colorado, along with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, are the few jurisdictions that have fully integrated the 2022 FDA Food Code, collectively representing 6.56 percent of the U.S. population. This marks a modest yet notable improvement with Colorado’s recent adoption.

Progress and challenges

Despite these advancements, several states and territories remain behind, operating under outdated Food Code versions. South Dakota, Indiana, Louisiana, Vermont, Alaska, New Jersey, one of New York’s regulatory agencies, and Guam continue to utilize versions dating back to 1995, 2001, or 2005. This delay in updating regulations poses potential risks to food safety and public health.

Efforts are underway in some regions to bridge this gap. Georgia and Missouri are actively working towards adopting the 2022 FDA Food Code, while an Iowa agency is conducting a “red tape review” to facilitate the adoption of the 2017 version with Supplement. Such initiatives indicate a growing recognition of the importance of aligning with the latest food safety standards.

Regulatory oversight and compliance

Across the United States, regulatory oversight of restaurants and retail food stores is managed by 64 state agencies, most of which are responsible for both sectors.

Of these, 44 agencies have adopted some version of the Food Code, with California’s Department of Public Health being the sole exception. Additionally, 43 state agencies have embraced one of the three most recent Food Codes.

Specialized regulatory bodies also play a significant role. Nine agencies focus exclusively on restaurants, with only the New York State Department of Health not adopting any version of the Food Code. All ten agencies overseeing retail food stores have adopted the code, ensuring a broader implementation of standardized food safety practices.

Comparative stringency

The FDA’s report also compares state regulations against the Food Code, identifying areas where state provisions tend to be less stringent. Common areas of discrepancy include the demonstration of knowledge, compliance and enforcement, sourcing food that complies with the law, and employee health protocols.

The ongoing updates and varying levels of adoption highlight the dynamic nature of food safety regulation in the United States.

As more states and territories work towards embracing the latest FDA Food Code, the goal of achieving nationwide uniformity in food safety standards remains a work in progress. With nearly all health agencies and agriculture departments adopting the Food Code, the foundation for a safer food retail and foodservice environment continues to strengthen.

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